Conversation Starters: 5 Easy Ways to Get People Talking
5 min read
Conversation is an exchange of ideas, usually informal, through spoken language between two or more people. It’s often social, frequently includes humor, and rarely stays on the same topic for very long. Turns overlap, the focus shifts among the participants, and everyone shares and listens to varying degrees.
In a positive conversational interaction, we make eye contact with our partners, but we don’t stare obsessively. We nod along, giving verbal indications that we understand (“Mm-hmm,” “Oh, yeah?” “Oh, no!” “Wow!”). Our body language conveys our interest. We don’t interrupt too often—we await our turn to contribute a reaction, anecdote, or opinion, to keep the conversation moving forward. We use language appropriate to the individuals and the setting, refraining from swearing with certain audiences while letting loose with others.
Sometimes these skills, called social skills or pragmatics, are lost, such as after a brain injury. Sometimes they’re never fully acquired—often the case in autism. When this happens, conversational skills must be taught.
Aside from social skills, a conversation requires that participants articulate words intelligibly, speak as fluently as possible, use clear, audible voices, and put the right words together into clear ideas. Many people, such as those living with aphasia, dysarthria, stuttering, or apraxia, have difficulty in one or more of these areas.
Speech-language therapy can help with these deficits. The goal is to improve the problem or to provide strategies to work around it.
Sometimes just starting a conversation can be one of the most challenging parts of therapy. Aside from the five easy conversation starters listed below, we also created an app that can help. Try the no-risk free version for yourself.
Here are 5 conversation starters:
General Tips for Conversation Starters
Be sure your questions are open-ended. You don’t want to be shut down with a simple “yes” or “no.” Your questions should start with a wh- type word (who, what, where, why, when, how) rather than with a do/did/are/have/were-type word.
Once you get your partner or client talking, you can make observations, suggest strategies, shape better habits, and work on sounds, words, and syntactic structures.
Be sure to take your own brief turns in the conversation, sharing your experiences and thoughts while modeling the behaviors you’re looking to improve in your partner. Just be careful you don’t dominate the conversation!
If you tend to get lost in the content of conversation, set up a data-tracking method ahead of the session, to keep yourself focused on the goal. Subtly make tick marks or use an app to tally a predetermined behavior or linguistic target. You’ll end up with an enjoyable session, as well as outcome data to document your partner’s progress.
Conversation Therapy has built-in scoring to track data during a conversation. Turn off the sound for the scoring buttons, to avoid disrupting the conversational flow.
Giving feedback during a conversation can be tricky, since the client may feel you’re commenting on the quality of their ideas rather than their speech or skills. Be sure to establish the goals of the conversation before starting, and positively acknowledge the content before drawing attention to the manner in which it was said.
If you follow these simple tips, you’ll have a new problem to worry about – how to get your clients to stop talking!